When Nelson filmmaker Amy Bohigian first began searching through archival photos, interviewing Kootenay residents and compiling personal histories for her 9-part historical documentary series Dreamers & Dissidents, there was a moment when she realized the gravity of the project she’d embarked on.
“All these stories are comprised of archival images, either from family albums or from the regional archives. In some cases I was looking at a person’s pictures from straight out of a shoebox. When you handle someone’s photographs and try to tell their life story you realize that you’re creating a legacy. That person might still be with us, or they might be long gone, but you’re looking to create their history. That’s a huge responsibility,” Bohigian told the Star while celebrating the recent completion of the project with her crew at the Gyro Park lookout.
Bohigian first pitched her project to the Knowledge Network as a series called If These Mountains Could Talk. She received a $40,000 commission after being selected from a pool of 27 other filmmakers, and she was hoping to explore the impact of the Kootenays’ geography on the social makeup of the town.
But as she got further along in the filming and editing process, the human element kept drifting to the forefront.
“We were going through the process of refining it and our executive director Murray Battle called me up and said ‘Amy, the mountains aren’t talking anymore’,” she said. “That’s when when we realized this project was about the people, and we needed a new title.”
She said the title Dreamers & Dissidents captures the aspirational, generation-spanning spirit of the Kootenays.
“The types of people who have lived here over the generations, they came here with a dream. Maybe it was for riches or to start a new life for their family. Some were fleeing persecution from other places, and became anti-establishment voices. The reason I’m intrigued is they all have certain connections to who I am, and it’s a reflection of who we are today.”
One example of that spirit is Kootenay pioneer Mattie Gunterman, who became famous as a camp cook in the area. One of the films depicts her life story.
“Here’s a woman who gave up on city life. She wanted something new, she needed to start over, so she walked 600 miles to Beaton. She couldn’t live in Seattle anymore so she took her Winchester and an axe and she walked the Dewdney Trail.”
Bohigian was particularly interested in how Gunterman devoted herself to documenting her own life through the lens of her camera. She was fascinated by the images she discovered.
“Mattie was a photographer, she’d learned from her uncle, and she took her camera and documented her life in pictures all along the way. She captured the times they had dancing in the kitchen, swimming in lakes and at resorts. These images are a window into this woman’s life.”
Nelson thespian Bessie Wapp will provide the voiceover, reading Gunterman’s words verbatim. In some cases the subjects were still alive and narrated their own short, but Bohigian sought out local actors for those who had already passed away.
“To be able to put these stories forward as our history is important. I’m giving them a voice, a document created with their own words. This is history through people’s eyes. History is often negotiated through a textbook or a professor or a teacher, but we’re removing that third party to let the people speak for themselves.”
Bohigian is especially pleased that she was able to assemble a world-class production team exclusively with local talent.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I could look around in the Kootenays and find the best people for the job right here in our own backyard.”
Knowledge Network CEO Rudy Buttingnol, along with director of original content Murray Battle are traveling to Nelson to host a free screening of the shorts on May 28. Doors will open at 7 p.m., and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Nelson Civic Theatre.
Tickets are available from from civictheatre.ca. After the screening the films will be used as interstitials between longer programs. The first on-air screening will be on BC Day this year at 8 p.m.
“They’re going to be played for many years to come,” Bohigian said.
For more information visit watershedproductions.com.